If I had to pinpoint the moment I realised communal living isn’t for me, I might tell you about the evening I came home from work to discover my housemate had binned my (new, expensive, not remotely soiled) running shoes in a blind decluttering frenzy... Or the time I found myself on the kitchen floor — dishcloth in one hand, Dettol in the other — scrubbing at the shit of a cat I neither own nor particularly care for... Or the time another housemate suggested I "lose the glasses and start wearing makeup if I ever want to get a man"... Or the time I stuck an arm down the toilet to clear a blockage and pulled out huge, glistening chunks of unchewed bacon...
I know, I know; been there, done that, got the stomach ulcer, right? Bunking up with a bunch of crackpots and oddballs — the kind of people you’d steer clear of on the night bus, let alone share a toothbrush mug with — is part and parcel of going through your 20s. If you were lucky enough to go to university, you may even look back fondly on the experience as a rite of passage; a first bite at the cherry of adulthood, where lifelong friendships were forged and you learned that partially defrosted fish fingers do not make a post-pub snack.
It is an entirely different matter however when you are in your 30s and have tasted the sweet bliss of sharing a home you own with someone you love.
Divorce can suck for any number of reasons, chief among which is the upheaval — emotional, physical, financial — of closing the door on a home you may have spent years building. I left my husband at the beginning of 2015 and while I have never regretted the end of our relationship, every now and again I pine for our tiny, draughty two-up two-down. It is not that I loved that house: the toilet reeked of sewage and there was dark, oppressive wood at every turn; we found a dead pigeon behind the fireplace and the desolate estate it lay on made headlines when a 12-year-old girl's body was found, hidden there by a family member. Location, location, location? You’re having a laugh, mate.
No, more than the house itself, I miss what it gave me. The freedom to walk around naked. An entire fridge, all to myself. Breakfast in bed as a luxury rather than avoidance strategy (I would rather watch Piers Morgan present Good Morning Britain in his Y-fronts than sit through another YouTube montage of "HilARioUs feminnist FAiLZ!!!!!!" over my cornflakes). When we reminisce about our student days, we forget how young we were; how we couldn’t quite believe there were no adults around to tell us to turn the music down or wash that stack of dirty dishes and so, because we had no real idea what to do with ourselves, we ran around like Kevin McCallister in Home Alone, eating massive bowls of ice cream and trashing each other’s bedrooms.
Eventually, though, we grow up and figure out a way of doing things that suits us. Inevitably it is a little calmer, a little tidier. It may involve a home-cooked meal, eaten at a table that isn’t strewn with unopened post and empty cans and bottles of nail polish. It may involve a bucket of fried chicken, eaten in the bath at the end of a long, exhausting day. Whatever it is, once we’ve figured it out, it becomes incredibly frustrating — even damaging to our mental health — if our living situation prevents us from indulging it.
I used to look forward to going home from work in the evening; these days, not so much. I make excuses to stop at the supermarket en route, notice my footsteps slow as I approach the front door, hoping I can let myself in and slip upstairs to my room unnoticed. Because while I struggle to love my new surroundings, I struggle to love my new housemates more.
For a single girl in her early 30s, the housing scene is a lot like Tinder — most people are happily ensconced with their significant other and those who aren’t, probably aren’t your cup of tea. Right now, I find myself cohabiting with the overseas representative of Canada’s alt-right, cunningly disguised as a primary school teacher with bouncy curls and an angelic smile. Perhaps if I were younger I would relish the challenge to my worldview but again, I have figured out what suits me and it does not involve repeated explanations of why the English Defence League is racist and Tommy Robinson is not 'misunderstood'.
Worse than all this, though, is the sense that I have somehow failed; that I am going backwards instead of forwards. We have a stubborn preoccupation in this country with home ownership, to the extent that it has become synonymous with success. When I tell people that I used to own a house, they look at me with a mixture of pity and incredulity — and who can blame them? One third of our generation will never get that opportunity. It feels reckless to have thrown it away.
Still, I think, you can’t take it with you. I have reconciled myself to the fact that I will probably never again own a home. All I long for these days is solitude — and somewhere to put the wanky fruit bowl I bought in a flash of headless indulgence, now gathering dust in my stepfather’s garage alongside all my other worldly possessions. I’ll take a studio flat in Zone 2 that doesn’t eat up half my monthly salary. Anyone?